Attack on Titan’s audience has seen some of the most beautiful animated action sequences, monstrous designs, and intriguing character changes ever shown on screen as the nearly decade-long Shnen anime series winds to a gradual finale. As the Rumbling draws nearer, all eyes are on Eren Jaeger’s (Bryce Papenbrook) fall into villainy. While the conclusion of Hajime Isayama’s famed manga series has caused controversy, the series has unquestionably delivered exhilarating and mind-bending character-focused content, with ‘Return to Shiganshina’ (Season 3, Part 2) perhaps being its strongest arc. It effectively concludes the first “half” of the series, as Isayama’s elaborately woven secrets and foreshadowing are eventually revealed.The storyline meets the audience’s desire for action while also delivering key character moments and revealing the Titans’ mystery. Indeed, ‘Return to Shiganshina’ is such a full story that it might be considered an alternate finale to the series, particularly for those who are dissatisfied with the original conclusion.
Arc storylines are an important structural component of Isayama’s series, as the major protagonists in Attack on Titan often go through a lot of development while fighting a big enemy. Character motivations and abilities vary, and sacrifices for the greater good are frequently made. The viewer first witnesses this lengthy combat across numerous episodes in the ‘Battle for Trost’ arc, but Isayama mastered the technique in ‘Return to Shiganshina.’
The arc stands out as the first in which the main characters are solely focused on the offensive, as they lead an expedition into the devastated Shiganshina area, armed with the knowledge needed to successfully confront the Titans. Eren and the rest of the Survey Corps had previously been caught off guard by an unexpected breakthrough in the Titan’s skills. The knowledge gathered during the ‘The Uprising’ arc, as well as the enhanced combative and strategic skills, combine to provide the characters a fighting chance rather than a merciless carnage.
“Return to Shiganshina” is a two-fronted conflict, with the Armored Titan/Reiner Braun (Robert McCollum) and the Colossal/Bertholdt Hoover (David Matranga) fighting inside Shiganshina District and the Beast Titan fighting outside (Ernesto Jason Liebrecht). The battered Survey Corps is split into two teams, directed by Commander Erwin Smith (J. Michael Tatum), with Eren and his allies assigned to fight Reiner and Bertholdt. Eren’s battle against Reiner and Bertholdt is extremely personal, especially as it takes place in the hometown they obliterated in the first episode, demonstrating Isayama’s penchant for character-driven narrative.
Instead of facing battle against the Colossal, Eren’s arch-nemesis until this point, Isayama purposely toys with the audience’s expectations by pitting him against Reiner, the man who would become his strongest analogue. Mikasa Ackerman’s (Trina Nishimaru) combat abilities, Jean Kirstein’s (Mike McFarland) levelheadedness, Hange Zo’s (Jessica Calvello) ingenuity, and even Connie Springer’s (Clifford Chapin) humorous timing all shine well in the supporting cast.
The beauty of ‘Return to Shiganshina’ comes from the fact that it is fundamentally a battle of wits rather than a bloodbath. Armin Arlett (Josh Grelle) is arguably the character who develops the most during the arc, anticipating his transformation into the story’s genuine protagonist. He is initially set up to be Reiner’s major opponent, with the goal of overcoming his anxieties and outmanoeuvring the Shifter’s plan. Despite his lack of narrative attention throughout the Fall of Shiganshina, Armin unexpectedly takes the stage as Bertholdt’s ultimate adversary. While some may have preferred to see Eren deliver the ultimate blow, Isayama is once again establishing Armin as the series’ final protagonist, just as Bertholdt makes his final commitment to his cause.Armin and Bertholdt each reach a turning point in their stories, where they gain confidence in themselves and their abilities, allowing them to become ideal opponents. Armin’s sacrifice to overcome Bertholdt decisively was a turning point in their lengthy road of overcoming self-doubt and lack of faith.